Thousands fled India-controlled Kashmir. Are they better off in Pakistan?
Some 35,000 Kashmiris fled from Indian-controlled Kashmir during the 1990s to settle in Pakistan, a country that has not yet granted citizenship to up to 40 percent of the migrants.
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“They were invited and told to stay until the dispute was resolved. When they came they were welcomed but it was expected that their stay would be temporary so Pakistan said ‘We don’t have to give you ID cards because you have the right to self-determination.' " This situation continued and continued and they’re still in the same situation they were in when they arrived, and now the third and fourth generations have been born within the camps.”Skip to next paragraph
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'We want to go back home, but only after the Indian Army has left'
At Rana’s residence, a make-shift shanty home with a corrugated iron roof, on the outskirts of Muzaffarabad city, three families crowd into two rooms and subsist on government welfare checks of $17 per person per month. Not one of the family possess a Pakistani ID card– including Rana and his younger brother Mushtaq, who was born in Muzafarrabad.
“We left our lands, our properties, our animals and businesses to come here,” says Abdul, the family head. “We want to go back home, but only after the Indian Army has left. What business do they have in Kashmir?” he asks.
Few can afford to visit or contact relatives back home
Only 1 percent of the total population of Kashmir claims to have been able to visit friends of relatives on the other side in the last five years, according to a recent poll by the Chatham House think tank in London.
Having left behind their possessions, almost none of the migrants have been able to return to meet loved-ones, and some have not even been able to afford to make telephone contact. The much-touted bus service between the two Kashmirs, launched as part of peace efforts between India and Pakistan in 2005, is “just for show” they say, as bureaucratic hurdles make travel impossible for the common man.
A people without a home, 'it's like we don't exist'
At the Manak Piyan camp at Muzaffarabad, home to some 2,000 migrants, a school teacher who asked not to be named because of his past membership in a militant group supported by Pakistani intelligence, says: “Nobody wants to take responsibility for us, it’s like we don’t exist." Before fleeing India, the teacher studied at the Srinagar SP college.
He finally got his ID card seven years ago, after a long struggle with red tape. Some members of the community petitioned the High Court in 2005 for citizenship rights, but the court’s ruling extended only as far as a few dozen individual cases. Other migrants were granted citizenship in 2006 in the run-up to the Azad Jammu Kashmir state elections, in what some felt was a cynical ploy by politicians to garner votes.